The Portland Trail Blazers fell to the Philadelphia 76ers 129-128 in a game that featured a three-pointer by both teams in the final three seconds. Portland drops to 3-3 on the season and 0-2 at home, while Philadelphia remains the only team in the league still without a loss.
Through the first 35 minutes, everything went right for the Blazers. They shot better than 50% from three and their players were playing some of their best basketball of the season, building a double-digit lead. A run by the 76ers at the end of the third quarter closed the gap to 10 and flipped momentum. The Sixers still trailed all but 10 seconds of the fourth quarter; a Furkan Korkmaz three just before the final buzzer ultimately gave Philadelphia the comeback win.
This recap’s structure will mimic the game’s: three positive topics followed by one negative to end it.
Plus: Mario Hezonja
Mario Hezonja set the tone early by scoring 10 of Portland’s first 18 points. He knocked down two three-pointers in the first quarter and displayed unusual finesse and composure around the rim. He didn’t let all the scoring get to his head: With five minutes remaining in the first, Hezonja received a pass while cutting to the rim, and instead of forcing a contested layup, he found Rodney Hood in the corner for a wide open triple to push the lead to eight.
Hezonja showed up on the other end as well. With only a few healthy players taller than 6’7, he was tasked with defending Ben Simmons. Simmons, a career 55.3% shooter, only made 43.7% of his shots tonight. Hezonja bodied Simmons strongly in the post and prevented him from getting any baskets right at the rim. Hezonja finished the game with two steals and had a plus/minus of +8.
Plus: Rodney Hood
Rodney Hood exited the game with 4:29 left with an apparent knee injury after a hard screen from Simmons. Between his substitution and the final whistle, Philadelphia outscored Portland 14-7 to secure the victory. Hood finished the game with a team-high plus/minus of +10.
Prior to his injury, Hood was COOKING. In 31 minutes, he had 25 points on 9/11 shooting — the only two misses came from beyond the arc. 20 of his 25 points were in the first half.
During a 24-second span in the middle of the second quarter, Hood sunk two three-pointers. The first resulted from smart back-and-forth passing by he and Hezonja that distracted Hood’s defender long enough for him to fire away. The second resulted from quick passing around the arc; Lillard ignored his own hot hand to make the extra pass to Hood in the corner, a sign that the team captain trusted Hood to knock down the triple.
Plus: Damian Lillard
As he has in every game this season, Lillard flipped a switch in the final quarter to keep Portland in front. This three-pointer was a sign of things to come:
Philadelphia tried two different screen coverages on him in the fourth. They trapped him before the screen could be set, but Lillard easily split the defenders and capitalized on the remaining three guys crashing into the lane to prevent an easy layup. They then tried drop coverage, which is always a mistake because it enables him to hit his signature pull-up triple right around a blackberry bush-esque Skal Labissiere screen.
On Portland’s final offensive possession, Lillard read the double-team and drove into the lane to attract two more defenders. With the entire defense’s attention on him, he kicked it to Anfernee Simons in the corner for a go-ahead triple. His ability to dominate with lights-out shooting and simultaneously use that gravity to create open looks for his teammates will pay dividends for a Blazers roster full of shooters.
Minus: Interior Defense
Even without Joel Embiid, the 76ers are a big team that dominates the paint. They lead the league in points in the paint per game, but the Blazers lead the league in least points in the paint sacrificed per game.
Neither of Portland’s rim protectors — Zach Collins and Hassan Whiteside — played due to injury, so Philadelphia easily won the battle down low. They finished the game with 84 points in the paint, a 44-point advantage.
Anthony Tolliver started in place of Whiteside and had to guard Al Horford. Horford made a living in the post as the defense decided not to throw a double team at him and help an outmatched Tolliver.
Also contributing to the interior domination was the Blazers perimeter defenders ball-watching. It allowed 76ers players to cut to the rim, and without Collins or Whiteside under the hoop, there was no last line of defense.
The Blazers look to get back over .500 on Monday against the injury-ridden Golden State Warriors.